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1st N.D. governor’s mausoleum restored

By Staff | Oct 31, 2014

Submitted North Dakota’s first governer, John Miller, is buried in this recently restored grand mausoleum at Green Hills Cemetery in Dryden, N.Y. Dale Niewoehner, of Rugby, led the project, which received support from former governors.

Editor’s note: People across the state are celebrating North Dakota’s 125th birthday this weekend. The state’s rich history will be shared in many ways, including this local submission about our first governor.

John Miller was a wealthy bonanza farmer in the Red River Valley in North Dakota, but his legacy extended beyond this rich farmland.

In 1878, Miller came from the Village of Dryden, located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

He purchased 17,000 acres of land in Richland County, North Dakota. Mr. Miller had no political ambitions, but after serving in the Constitutional Convention in mid-1889, he was persuaded to run for governor, and was elected in November, 1889.

He was known as a strong and honest leader for the new state. He would not be bribed or swayed by the many powerful political forces forging their thoughts in the new government and organization of North Dakota. Miller served in office until January, 1891. He returned to his business to manage and expand his farming and grain operations in the Red River Valley.

He was a partner with Herbert F. Chaffee in an operation of milling flour, feed and other agricultural services. The company had offices in North Dakota and Duluth, Minn.

On Oct. 26, 1908, Miller died in Duluth, three days short of turning 65. His family and Mrs. H. F. Chaffee accompanied the body on a train from Duluth to Dryden for burial in Green Hills Cemetery.

In 1910, a grand mausoleum constructed of light gray granite was built on the Miller lot for the burial of Gov. Miller. Over the years, his wife and their two daughters were entombed in the mausoleum. The fact that a state governor is buried in the Green Hills Cemetery has long been a sense of pride of the cemetery.

For some time, the tomb has been in need of minor repairs. I became aware of these needs while in communication with Ray Harris, sexton of the Green Hills Cemetery. Harris informed me that two windows needed replacement, a bronze door hinge was in need of repair, and the buildup of 100 years of tree sap and dirt needed to be cleaned from the outside of the building.

The cemetery also asked that a bronze plaque be mounted on the outside of the mausoleum to inform visitors of the occupant. A flag pole outside the mausoleum proudly displays the North Dakota flag.

I received assistance in a successful, modest fund drive to raise the necessary funds for the restoration of the Miller mausoleum. Among the supporters contacted was Grace Link, widow of former North Dakota Gov. Arthur A. Link. Mrs. Link was proud to participate in the project, adding that “our state’s history must be preserved and this would certainly be a way to honor our state’s first governor.”

Additional generous contributions from former U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and former governor, now U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., generated the necessary funds for the restoration project.

Another interesting piece of history is that Herbert and Carrie Chaffee were first class passengers on the R.M.S. Titanic in April, 1912. Mr. Chaffee died in the sinking of the ship and Mrs. Chaffee is buried in the Amenia Cemetery, north of Casselton, N.D.

Dale Niewoehner owns and operates Niewoehner Funeral Home in Rugby. For more information, contact him at 776-6222 or dmniewoehner@gondtc.com.

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